Hockey players are renowned for their pain tolerance, but Danny Taylor has a new hero in that department these days.
“I knew my wife was tough, but I didn’t have any idea she was this tough,” the Abbotsford Heat goalie marveled after practice Wednesday, one day after Danielle Taylor gave birth to the couple’s first child. “She went through so much.”
This week has been a roller-coaster of emotions for Taylor, to say the least.
The 26-year-old ‘tender was set to make his second consecutive road start vs. the Chicago Wolves on Sunday, but at 8:30 a.m. Central time, he received word that Danielle’s water had broken. An hour later, he was on a flight back home to Abbotsford.
The birth experience was traumatic for the Taylors – after more than 24 hours of labour and multiple complications, the baby arrived via C-section at 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day. It was a boy – Hudson Gregory David Taylor, seven pounds and 15 ounces.
“It was almost like the worst 24 hours to the best moment, when they pulled out the baby,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t a good birthing experience at all, and it was hard on both of us. But it’s good – she’s healthy, he’s healthy.
“I thought I’ve loved a lot of things in my life, but you don’t really know what love is until you have your first kid. It’s unbelievable.”
After a good sleep Tuesday evening, Taylor was back at work on Wednesday.
“I rode the bike yesterday, and I was feeling good,” said Taylor, who sits third in the AHL with a 2.02 goals against average. “Once you get back in the net and get around the guys, it’s like you never left. The team’s been awesome for support, and I can’t say enough.”
The AHL is all about development, and Heat head coach Troy Ward said he plans to use Taylor’s experience as a first-time father as a teachable moment for the younger players.
“I’ll ask him for some feedback on how it went, and he’ll have to share that in front of the team,” Ward said. “It’s obviously a special time, and each of us as we have our own children in life, it’s a different experience for all of us. But there are some common threads that I’m sure he’ll share that will help one or two guys eventually when they have a kid down the road – what’s at stake and how to handle it.”
HOME SWEET HOME
With a new baby at home, Taylor is surely glad the Heat are embarking on their longest homestand of the season – an eight-game engagement at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, beginning with a Friday-Saturday set vs. the Rochester Americans (7 p.m. both nights).
The schedule also figures to benefit the Heat as a whole. They struggled mightily in December, posting a 3-7-3 record while playing eight of 13 games on the road.
Goal-scoring was a big issue – Abbotsford mustered just 1.38 goals per game during the month. Sven Baertschi’s absence was certainly a factor, and his potential return this weekend would be a huge boon, but Ward said the lack of practice time due to travel also played a major role in the team’s lack of finish around the net.
“Early in the year, we had tons of practice time (at home), and then we’d win on the weekends,” Ward noted. “As we’ve not had practices because of travel or the game schedule . . . we’ve lost a real feel for the game. Our skill players haven’t touched a lot of pucks, and that hasn’t helped our confidence at all.”
That the Heat have also established a comfort zone at the AESC, where they’re 10-3-3 this season, also bodes well.
“We still have to go out and win hockey games, and that’s tough to do in this business,” Ward said. “But I think we’ll have much more confidence about how we go about our business (at home). We just haven’t been very confident of late.
“We have some young players who really need to feel good in order to perform well. They’re just developing, they’re just young players yet. So we need confidence.”
HODGSON BACK IN B.C.
Ex-Vancouver Canucks fan favourite Cody Hodgson will be the headliner when the Amerks come to town this weekend.
Hodgson was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres organization last year in a controversial trade for Zack Kassian. Biding his time with the Amerks during the NHL lockout this season, he’s posted 18 points in 16 games. Hodgson recently returned to the Rochester lineup after missing 14 games with a broken bone in his right hand.
The Amerks (16-12-3, 35 points), who sit four points back of the Heat (16-9-7, 39 points) in the North Division standings with one game in hand, also boast the reigning AHL player of the week in T.J. Brennan. The defenceman posted one goal and five assists in three games for the week ending Dec. 30, and he leads the team in scoring with 29 points in 31 games. Brennan sits third in points among AHL blueliners, trailing only Justin Schultz of the OKC Barons (45 points) and Mike Kostka of the Toronto Marlies (31).
FERLAND BACK TO JUNIOR
Ward said he’s been in touch with Michael Ferland, the rookie winger who asked for a return to junior after struggling to crack the Heat lineup.
Ferland, a promising prospect coming off a 47-goal season with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, got into just seven games with the Heat this fall. The 20-year-old was a healthy scratch the first eight games due to the Heat’s NHL lockout-induced depth up front, and later battled an undisclosed injury. He was assigned to the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies on Dec. 14, registering one assist and a -2 rating in three games.
Over Christmas, the Swan River, Man. native asked the Calgary Flames to send him back to the Wheat Kings, and the Flames complied.
“I talked to Michael the other day before his first game in Brandon, wished him well and had a good chat with him,” Ward said. “He’s hurt again, so I’ll follow up either today or tonight.”
Ferland’s fitness was said to be less-than-stellar at the start of Heat training camp, and Ward said earlier in the season that the rookie spent a great deal of one-on-one time with strength coach Mike Thompson in an effort to make improvements in that department.
“I think he figured out in a very quick way how tough this business is,” Ward said.
LAING MAKES HIS MARK
Just prior to Christmas, AHL president David Andrews picked Heat captain Quintin Laing to wear the ‘C’ for the Western Conference at the league’s All-Star Classic, which runs Jan. 27-28 in Providence, R.I.
It speaks to the level of league-wide respect Laing (pictured right) has earned over the course of eight AHL campaigns. He’s served as captain for all three teams he’s suited up for – the Norfolk Admirals, the Hershey Bears and the Heat.
“He’s just done a tremendous job here in Abbotsford,” Ward said. “He leads by example – he’s not a rah-rah guy. He’s a heart and soul type guy. It’s an honour for him, for sure, but it’s certainly an honour for our organization as well.”